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Interstate 5 Freeway

Gateway to History Series

I-5 Construction 

Construction of I-5 at 3rd and J Streets, October 30, 1967. Frank Christy Collection, 1998/722/0832

The Sacramento region has consistently reshaped its identity, overcome adversity, and prospered as the capital of the seventh largest economy in the world. Flourishing growth, population diversity, cultural expansion, and metropolitan gentrification resulted in Sacramento's unique journey into postwar proliferation of urban neighborhoods, government structures, businesses, and cultural attractions. The extenuating need for an efficient public transportation system resulted in a proposal to establish the Interstate 5 freeway. The system connected various roadways and enhanced development.

The placement of Interstate 5, or I-5, in Sacramento was debated and contested before a compromise was reached. CSH's archival holdings contains documents, photographic images, and artifacts addressing the full spectrum of the activities involving the creation of I-5, and the impact on citizens, institutions, and regional development. The Gateway to History series established for the benefit of teachers and student offers resources that can increase student learning while developing an appreciation of local history. The resources answer such questions as: What impacts did the I-5 freeway have on the central city; what planning considerations did the community leaders discuss; and what repercussions are evident today in social, cultural, economic, and environmental terms?

Sample Resources at the Center for Sacramento History (CSH)

Freeway Facts (1957)
CSH Call Number: Don Rivett Collection, 1985/072, Box 2, Folder 21
California Highway Commission held a public meeting leading to the adoption of highway routing. The purpose of the session was to acquaint people with information developed by the commission studies and provide the opportunity to contribute ideas. The pamphlet identifies the process of input through approvals and describes why freeways are built, selection of routes, and impact to the community.

Alternative Concepts: For Sacramento Central City Area Study (1960)
CSH Call Number: Don Rivett Collection, 1985/072, Box 2, Folder 30
This publication includes illustration boards, maps, and drawings identifying the routing of I-5, based on population growth, development, and traffic activities.

"Evolution of the Sacramento Freeway System" (1963)
CSH Call Number: Philip Mering Collection, 1995/087/021, Box 1 Folder 21
This reprinted article from Traffic Quarterly details Sacramento's uniqueness among larger California cities, in that it had no freeways either through the city or by-passing its downtown. Author Alan S. Hart, documents that the need for a thoroughfare was based upon metropolitan growth, expanding state government buildings, and addressing traffic growth within the central city. The narrative includes: development studies of I-5, conflicts between the city government and downtown merchants, and historic preservation groups.

A Plan for Trafficways and Modifications to Railroad Operations and Facilities (1958)
CSH Call Number: Sacramento Traffic Engineers Collection, 1980/040, Box 8, Folder 1
DeLeuw, Cather and Company was hired by the city to conduct studies and report on congestion attributed to railroad operations impacting traffic congestion. The material contains a history of roadway development, traffic forecasting, financing, and constructing a freeway system. Survey results, freeway maps, and exhibits reflect proposed routes. Recommendations for a three-stage plan for trafficways improvement and benefits are described in the report.

Sacramento: Indomitable City (2003)
CSH Call Number: F869.S12 A83 2003
Population growth, commercial development in outlying areas, and the proliferation of vehicles shifted transportation priorities from public transportation to the automobile. Author Steven Avella's well researched book reflects the importance of a freeway system, funded partially by the 1957 National Defense Highway Act. Previous roadways complimented construction projects. The 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Olympics accelerated the construction of I-80, redevelopment keyed the expansion of Highway 99, and the 1967 opening of Sacramento International Airport necessitated a major route for the capital. The alterations required to build I-5 challenged politicians, business leaders, historic preservationists, and citizens (see pages 122-140).

Ken Lastufka Collection (1985)
CSH Call Number: 2004/060, Boxes 1-2
The compilation encompasses two boxes of material, mostly related to the planned redevelopment of Sacramento's West End. Mr. Lastufka's Master's Thesis (1985) studied the transformation of the area (1950 to 1970) and examined the impact on displacement of West End residents, and the community, as a result of relocation. CSH has catalogued the documents containing photocopies of the reports, correspondence, and statistics from the study.

Frank Christy Collection (1967)
CSH Call Number: Photo Archives, 1998/722/832-837
These photographs show the progression of the construction of I-5 thru downtown Sacramento on October 30, 1967.

Sacramento Bee and Sacramento Union clippings (1958-1974)
CSH Call Number: In-House Collection, 2002/001/015, Box 1, Folders 1-3
This collection of newspaper clippings reports the city's redevelopment efforts and the I-5 freeway construction. The Sacramento Bee declared the razing of the old city a "disfiguration of the city."

Suggested Activities

Activity A
Case study – group students into two factions; support I-5 routing through old town vs. circumventing the historic area. Examine the political, social, cultural, historic, economic, and human impact.

Activity B
A Journey Through Time – Students role-play giving testimony to the Federal Highway Commission, playing politicians, historians, business leaders, potential displaced residents, etc. Utilize copies of primary resources from CSH: newspaper clippings, reports, transcripts, photographs, documents.

Activity C
Provide a variety of primary/secondary sources related to the I-5 freeway and Sacramento urbanization. Students compare and contrast the items, making references, analyzing information, and drawing conclusions.

Activity D
If the I-5 freeway route went through Yolo County, how would that have impacted downtown Sacramento? Did community leaders and planners sufficiently consider the impact of this alternative? Have a large group brainstorming session, clustering the responses in categories. Small groups then create a brief position paper for their cluster.

Activity E
Macy's, currently in the Downtown Plaza, was vigorously lobbying for the I-5 freeway to be placed near their business. Utilize a debate format, have teams discuss Macy's/business's point of view vs. historic preservationists position. Remainder of class scores debate using a rating protocol constructed by students.

Activity F
Students create a poster to promote the new I-5 freeway. Student teams interview and/or survey peers, relatives, and friends, then create a motivational image heralding the new route. Students process the experience – what they have learned about themselves, the issues addressed, surprises, and discoveries.

Activity G
Create working panels to debate what should government officials and urban planners think about when planning a large, long-term infrastructure redevelopment and modernization project?